British trio Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Bechtolsheimer added their own chapter to the history of dressage in a phenomenal display at the Greenwich Arena today. In the final team test, the Grand Prix Special to decide the medals, they rode brilliantly to win gold ahead of Germany with the Netherlands in Bronze. This is Britain’s first ever Olympic dressage medal and it also made Team GB the most successful British team since 1908 as it was the team’s 20th gold of the Games. We started the day with the narrowest of margins over rivals Germany of just 0.56% so the mission was to out-score each of their riders.
Germany’s first team rider Dorothee Schneider riding Diva Royal put up a 77.571% in the specifically designed, more technically demanding Grand Prix Special test to give them a good solid start. She was followed by Carl with his own and Sasha Stewart’s black stallion Uthopia to get the British challenge underway. Their performance was breath-taking with the extended trot work a highlight. There are few riders who can produce a test like Carl and he was at his magnificent best today. 80.571% was his score which set a new Olympic Grand Prix Special record and gave Britain a great start. Carl said; “I was really, really pleased with that; I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve lacked some confidence coming into this, I’ve only ridden the test once (in competition at Fritzens, Austria) and the score wasn’t so good so to come here, to better the mark by 5% and here of all places is amazing. The horse is the same here as in the arena at home and I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to have that.”
Seven-time Olympian Anky van Grunsven was the first of the Dutch team to go with the veteran Salinero and they score 74.794% which kept the team behind the leaders. On to round two and debutante Kristina Sprehe and the stallion Desperados for Germany didn’t appear as settled as they were in the Grand Prix and the marks didn’t quite flow as they had previously but a strong score of 76.254% still left Germany in the hunt with their strongest rider to come. Laura Bechtolsheimer then had the chance to settle a score with Kristina as the German rider got the better of her in Dortmund in the Special. Riding her father Wilfried and her own Mistral Hojris, Laura entered confidently with the knowledge that this test suits the horse’s prowess for piaffe. Just some very minor blips in the canter changes lowered the marks but overall it was a great test under great pressure to post a 77.794% to give Britain a few more points leeway. After her test, Laura commented; “The old Alf’s back, he felt fantastic; he gave me the performance of a young horse which makes me feel really emotional. He felt fantastic and even though we had a few costly mistakes I was so pleased.
“I feel so privileged to be part of the evolution of dressage, today has been so special. The crowd – there’s nothing like it, it’s amazing to have all those people behind you.”
Germany’s final rider was the in-form combination of Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill and you could feel the tension in the 23,000 strong crowd. Again, there was some tension from the combination in comparison to their first test but there were certainly moments of brilliance for a score of 78.937% to put further pressure on Britain’s final rider.
It was then down to 27 year old Charlotte Dujardin; a rider who has only been riding at Grand Prix level for just 18 months. As world record holder for this test, her confidence will have been high but could she pull it off under such pressure and when there was a gold medal resting on it? Of course she could! With Carl Hester and Roly Luard’s amazing gelding Valegro, Charlotte rode a mature, perfectly presented test with just the smallest of errors. The extended trot was breath-taking – indeed 23,000 seemed to hold their breath throughout the test! Great piaffe and passage work was well rewarded by the seven judges. 81.905% flashed up on the board and the crowd went wild, the gold was Britain’s! By the time she’d come out of the arena, it was announced that her score had been revised to 83.286%! A huge score; enough to take the Olympic record from her mentor, Carl Hester, but not enough to overtake her world record. A delighted Charlotte said; “My legs were like jelly, I was more nervous in there; I didn’t ride like I knew I could but he still felt really good. It’s so surreal but it was the ultimate dream to get here and win gold; Valegro’s the horse of a lifetime.”
It was also enough to give Britain gold. Previously, the dressage team’s highest ever placing was fifth so to win a medal of any colour is a huge step in the evolution of the sport in Britain. It was also gold medal number 20 for Team GB making this the most successful Olympics for the country since 1908.
Individually, Richard Davison had to cope with a spooky and unsettled Artemis. The Countess of Derby’s Florestan-sired gelding had to wait to enter and then had the crowd moving back to their seats following the lunch interval and it un-nerved him as he entered the electric arena. Richard did manage to get some beautiful work from the horse for a final score of 70.524%.
Looking towards Thursday’s Freestyle competition for the individual medals, Charlotte finished top of the leader boards with Adelinde Cornelissen in second with Parzival and Carl just behind – these were the only three riders to break 80% today. Laura is fifth so all three team members go through but sadly Richard didn’t quite make the cut but he would be unable to compete anyway as only three riders from each nation can compete.